Got a great script idea in your head but not sure how to condense it? Already have a great script but not sure how to sell it? You need a synopsis. But what if you don’t know how to write a synopsis?
As a writer, being able to write a movie synopsis (or a TV pilot synopsis) is a critical skill. Producers, execs, and agents will often want to read a synopsis before diving into the actual script. And frequently it’s the brief synopsis that convinces them to read your script in the first place.
In this article, we’ll answer, “what is a synopsis?” We’ll also give you solid film synopsis guidance, and teach you how to write a synopsis using our free synopsis template.
- When to Use a Synopsis
- Finding the Middle Ground
- The Do’s of Writing a Movie Synopsis
- The Don’ts of Writing a Film Synopsis
- A Synopsis Is a Summary
WHAT IS A SYNOPSIS
1. When to Use a Synopsis
Whether it’s an epic TV series like Game of Thrones or a rom-com that never leaves one square block in New York City, the brief synopsis has to explain it all.
And explain it quickly.
But how quickly? How long is a synopsis?
And what is a synopsis in the first place? How can you find a good film synopsis example?
We’ll answer all these questions.
Let’s start with the basics. What’s a synopsis?
WHAT IS A SYNOPSIS?
A synopsis is a write-up that describes the plot and world of your story. A script synopsis can be used to sell your idea. A synopsis can also be written when providing screenplay coverage or script analysis to agents, managers, and producers.
You can write a brief synopsis or a long synopsis, depending on the goal. Usually, movie synopsis length is one page or less.
As we explore how to write a synopsis, keep in mind that the key here is brevity.
If it’s too short, your movie synopsis is really a logline. If it’s too long, it goes into outline or treatment territory.
How do you write a synopsis for Incredibles 2? Hit all the beats quickly
A movie synopsis should explain who is the main character (or characters), what they want, and who or what stands in their way.
It should also function as a plot synopsis in that it should describe broad strokes of what the characters do in an effort to get what they want.
The goal of your synopsis? To sell your script’s story and concept. Imagine that you’re a producer. You don’t have time to read every script you get. But a one-page synopsis? That’s more manageable.
So think of your synopsis as your pithy, accurate, one-page “elevator pitch.”
HOW TO WRITE A SYNOPSIS
2. Finding the Middle Ground
How DO you differentiate your synopsis from a logline or an outline?
A good chunk of it comes down to length. Use our synopsis template, provided in this article, to get a head start.
Here’s a rundown:
Loglines barely cover two sentences. Ideally, they stay at about one.
Outlines can go upwards of five to even ten pages. And treatments can run even longer, breaching the teens.
The reason why outlines and treatments can go so long is because they’re a scene-by-scene breakdown written in prose.
An outline or treatment is obviously not a novel, but basic concepts and actions of every scene need to be covered.
Ultimately, a synopsis is another way to tell your story.
Write already! A brief synopsis is a summary, a showcase, and a key to unlock your story
When you’re writing a synopsis, you should stay at one page or less — not a word longer.
Picture yourself in a room full of producers. A heavyweight points at you. Yes, you. Alright buster, time to pitch your script.
Now picture yourself delivering the most compelling, entertaining, emotional, amazing one-minute pitch of all time. You’ve got everyone in the room laughing, crying, hanging on your every word. They love the story, the turning points, the characters. They can’t wait to read your script and make your movie.
Feels pretty good, right? Okay, take that scenario and write your dynamite pitch on a piece of paper, limiting yourself to one page. The same pitch you delivered to the producers in your “fantasy scenario.”
That’s your synopsis.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of writing a synopsis right now.
- Read More: How to Write an Outline →
- Read More: How to Write a Treatment →
- Create: Break Down Your Script Online →
WRITING A SYNOPSIS
3. The Do’s of Writing a Movie Synopsis
Learning how to write a movie synopsis isn’t rocket science.
Sure, the film synopsis for Armageddon probably mentions rocket science, but writing a synopsis isn’t nearly as hard as landing a drill on an asteroid hurtling toward Earth.
At least it doesn’t have to be.
What’s a synopsis? Sometimes it’s a one-page rocket ride.
Here’s a list of everything you should take into account when figuring out how to write a synopsis for your project.
- Length: Keep your synopsis to one page. Anything longer than that and it defeats the point of writing a synopsis.
- Tone and Voice: Your movie synopsis should be written in the present tense, third person. Tell the story in the same tone and voice as the script.
- Characters: Make sure you introduce each character with something unique about them, whether it’s a physical feature or another idiosyncrasy. The reader should know exactly who each character is, what they want, and why they want it.
- Dialogue: Should a movie synopsis include dialogue? Absolutely. Should it be whole paragraph chunks? Absolutely not. Dialogue should be included in short bursts, used as a way to add color to the characters in the plot synopsis, only as needed. You don’t have to use dialogue, but you can.
- The Ending: What is a synopsis if it doesn’t end? The goal here isn’t to flesh out the trailer, so don’t keep any secrets when writing your movie synopsis.
These are the priority items on your “how to write a synopsis” to-do list. But to really elevate it, here are more tips to make yours stick out.
- Start with the active drive. Right off the bat, your movie synopsis should clearly explain what the main character wants and what they’re doing about it.
- Establish causality. No story exists in a vacuum. So in your film synopsis, make sure the causality from one event to another is explained. Imagine that the words “therefore” and “but” are between each major plot point.
- Start big, end bigger. Your first paragraphs should really hook in the reader with a compelling introduction of your hero. The ending should be even more exciting and tie all the loose ends together.
Now, take all these tips into account and complete the exercise below. It’ll strengthen your writing and give you confidence you can really use:
Choose two films (or TV shows) that you’ve recently watched, or that you’ve always loved. Write a one-page synopsis of each project.
Don’t overthink, don’t second-guess, and limit yourself to one page for each title. When you’ve finished, compare the two. Which synopsis is stronger? Are there any points you’ve missed? How could they be strengthened? What works, and what doesn’t? Congratulations — you’ve got two short synopsis examples under your belt.
The best way to learn how to write a synopsis is to write a synopsis. After you complete the above exercise, you’ll come into writing your own synopsis with practical experience and open eyes. As a result, the process won’t be unfamiliar, and your work will be stronger right out of the gate.
- Read More: Energize Your Story with Conflict →
- Read More: How to Write the Best Character Arcs →
- Create: Shot List and Storyboard Your Film →
WHAT’S A SYNOPSIS
4. The Don’ts of Writing a Film Synopsis
Now that you know how to write a synopsis, let’s take a look at how to avoid common mistakes.
While there are no hard and fast rules to answer, it’s best to avoid the following errors when writing a synopsis:
- Don’t mention too many characters. We don’t need the backstory on the waitress at the bar where the two main characters talk. A brief synopsis means you have to let go of these unnecessary elements.
- Don’t use too much detail about plot twists and turns. If you explain what someone does and why in your movie synopsis, the twists and turns will make sense to the reader.
- Don’t editorialize your film synopsis. We don’t need flowery, superfluous language like “in a poignant scene” or “like two star-crossed lovers.” Get to the point quickly and clearly.
- Don’t make it a marketing tool. Sure, writing a synopsis involves an element of “the pitch,” but it shouldn’t come across too “salesy,” like a pure pitch deck or a creative brief. A movie synopsis should be a preview of what the story is and who is in it. Let the reader see how you executed and wrote the story.
- Don’t rush to the end. As we said earlier, a brief synopsis should be your goal, but it can be hard to learn how to write a synopsis if you don’t have any meat in the middle. That great ending won’t pay off if we don’t know or understand the journey to get there.
When it comes down to how to write a synopsis (and figuring what is a synopsis) the best bet is to tackle the basics of the story head-on.
Save any literary flourishes for the actual script and keep it to the meat and potatoes of the story. The goal here is to provide a brief synopsis, a basic plot synopsis. Keep it snappy and engaging, but stick to the story.
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MOVIE synopsis essentials
5. A Synopsis Is a Summary
How to write a synopsis comes down to a few things. Let’s summarize now.
What is a synopsis?
A synopsis is a one-page write-up that explains the basic plot and world of your project. It answers who’s who, what’s what, and why we should care.
Who writes a movie synopsis?
Well, the writer definitely should. But also readers.
If anyone is covering an agent’s or an executive’s desk, they’re going to break down and analyze scripts. Doing so will require writing a clear, brief synopsis for every project.
We have provided solid rules about best practices when writing a synopsis.
Maybe your synopsis is a writing tool. If so, even after you’ve written a good synopsis, make sure your story is structurally sound before moving into the outline, treatment, and script phases.
Using templates and techniques like story circle can ensure that the structure of your script leads to a gripping narrative.
That way, when you start figuring out how to write a synopsis for a project, you won’t have to worry about any dragging or lagging elements.
After all, no one wants to read a soggy second act.
For writers, a good synopsis, written with our free template as a guide, will kickstart your storytelling process. It will give people a one-page “best foot forward” impression of your script.
And for story analysts, a synopsis will summarize all the key points of the story. It will convey the plot, characters, and tone — the next best thing to reading the actual script.
Writing a strong synopsis helps the creative filmmaking process at every level, so use what you’ve learned and start writing.
How to Write Script Coverage
As you see, synopses are mainstays on both sides of the industry — business and creative. If you’re a storyteller, you need to know how to write a synopsis.
Now that we’ve given you the tools to write a synopsis, it’s time to learn how to analyze a script. Take it to the next level and find out how to write screenplay coverage like a professional industry reader.
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